Chasing rhino poachers was a surprise

John Krutzfeldt pointing to a dehorned mother rhino. (Photo by William "Butch" Krutzfeldt -- used by permission)


Butch Krutzfeldt went to South Africa to photograph wild animals and research game farm management. He did that, but he also wound up in the middle of a manhunt for rhino poachers.

Butch was accompanying his brother, John, on a big game hunt, but when their guide spotted some poachers on her land, they were quickly pulled into an all-out chase for the men.

From reading articles, Butch knew that poaching was a problem there, but it was still a shock to encounter it directly.

“I thought they were picnicking,” Butch said of the three men they drove up on, “but when they jumped up and started running, the hunter guide said ‘poachers,’then the hunt was on for them.”

The men were spotted about 9:30 in the morning, and by 11:30, two of them had been apprehended. The third man and an alleged driver were located the next day, along with the carcass of a nursing and pregnant rhino with her horns cut off.

During the search, Butch and John acted as lookouts, while other people were stationed at various crossroads. Helicopters and trackers also aided in the search.

“We’re from the West, you know; it was exciting for us,” Butch recalls, smiling. “I can’t say that we were fearful at all. It was exciting and put us on high alert, but we had more people looking for them than there were of them.”

The excitement turned to sadness the next day when the group discovered a nursing rhino that was shot and left to waste by the alleged poachers.

“I was just just sad for th animal,” Butch said. “I was surprised at how kind her eyes were. In this country, if you’re a horseman you tend to notice the eyes of horses, that kind, watchful eye.”

Noting that cutting off the horns doesn’t kill the rhino, Butch said tranquilizing the animal would even be less cruel than just shooting and wasting it. The locals harvest the animals, but they eat the meat and use the horn and hide.

“It’s a terrible waste and a challenge in Africa to keep the horned and tusked animals and not have a potential wipeout of them,” he said. “I think we, as people, need to be alerted about what’s happening.”

Since leaving South Africa, Butch has heard from his guide, Elmarie, that seven more rhinos have been poached in the area.

“Basically, it’s an animal massacre, and they’re doing their darndest to keep it under control,” he said.

On the positive side, Butch learned a lot about how South Africans operate their game farms, including feed, fencing, supplement and water management. 

“I think I came back with a better appreciation of how to go about doing things in a more animal-friendly way,” he said.

Butch is involved with an animal refuge northeast of Miles City along the river. He strives to preserve good habitat for pheasants, turkeys, grouse, ducks and geese, as well as deer and smaller animals.

“I’m interested in seeing that I manage it correctly,” he said.